Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bell Biv DeVoe - Poison (1990)

Although a lot of folks may think of Bell Biv DeVoe’s Poison and chuckle, that album (and its smash title track) has turned out to be more influential than most people will give it credit for. From the risqué lyrical content to the uncompromisingly hip-hop production, these dudes were as street as pop music got back in the day. Not bad for a project that essentially started as an accident.
The year was 1989. Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe were best known as the Tito, Jackie and Marlon of teen idols New Edition (lead singers Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill were Michael and Jermaine, respectively). The tour in support of N.E.’s multi-platinum 1988 album Heart Break had just ended, and Gill and Tresvant had made the decision to concentrate on solo albums. As legend has it, the other three group members were trying to figure out what to do with their idle time when legendary production team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis suggested that they record an album. Dumbfounded that they hadn’t thought of that themselves, Bell Biv DeVoe was born, and wound up selling more records than Tresvant and Gill’s subsequent solo efforts - combined.

At any rate, the evolution of hip-hop soul had a lot to do with BBD’s success, in more ways than one. It’s hard to imagine acts like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci existing without Bell Biv DeVoe’s success. Hell, TLC was created as a female answer to BBD. By himself, Michael Bivins also pretty much created the artist/mogul template that most current R&B/hip-hop big willies aspire to these days, discovering and grooming acts like Another Bad Creation and Boyz II Men. It’s hard to imagine there being a Jermaine Dupri or a Puff Daddy without there being a Michael Bivins. The influence that Bell Biv DeVoe had on the contemporary scene in their brief time can't be underestimated.
That, and the title track is still memorable and relevant today.


TLC - Ain't Too Proud To Beg (1991)

Another track that helped new Jack Swing cross over into the mainstream and yet another track that has never left the FVS playlist since it's release.
TLC's debut single and taken from the album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip. The song reached No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, becoming their first single to reach the top ten on both charts. Also one of the first acts on LaFace Records (L.A. Reid & Babyface's brainchild), they not only helped the label climb to unprecedented heights, they also paved the way for a slew of female R&B acts to have a more affirmative image, i.e. not feeling they had to dress as sex symbols.
Having sold an estimated 32 million albums and 20 million singles worldwide, they are the best selling female group of all time. They released four multi-platinum studio albums and in 2008, the group was inducted into the All Time Hot 100 Artist Hall of Fame by Billboard magazine, (at 56th place). At the end of 1999, the band was ranked (again by Billboard) as the seventh most successful act of the 1990's.
This success was unfortunately cut short by the tragic death of Lisa 'left Eye' Lopes in a car accident in Honduras in 2002. Tionne 'T-Boz Watkins and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas have since reformed as a duo (having vowed to never replace Lopes in their line-up) and plan to record new material.

Boyz II Men - Motownphilly (1991)

Boyz II Men were formed in 1988 at Philadelphia's High School of the Creative and Performing Arts. Founding members Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson had been singing together for several years, but had trouble keeping a group together simply due to members graduating. Things finally stabilized when they hooked up with Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and bass vocalist Michael McCary; calling themselves Unique Attraction, the quintet performed a well-received Valentine's Day show for their school and developed a repertoire that leaned heavily on New Edition songs (one of which, "Boys to Men," gave them their name). Their big break came in 1989, when they snuck backstage at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert and wowed group member Michael Bivins (also formerly of New Edition, and a budding music entrepreneur) with an a cappella version of New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain." Bivins offered them a deal right there, but Nelson would not stick around to be part of it; personality conflicts led to his departure soon after (he later resurfaced as a member of Az Yet).
"Motownphilly" is Boyz II Men's 1991 debut single for their debut album Cooleyhighharmony. The single was a success peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Michael Bivins, who co-wrote the song, provides a guest rap on the song. The group gives credit to New Jack Swing groups Another Bad Creation and Bell Biv DeVoe in the lyric "Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (1991)

Arguably one the best songs of the 90's, Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy combined elements of soul, hip-hop and orchestral strings to give an unprecedented sound which put Massive Attack's name on the map. Shara Nelson's moving vocal performance on this track is enough to send shivers down anyone's spine. Great song, great record sleeve, great video, great album; seems to tick every box. Also the Oakenfold remix was as good as the original and they are both on a par for me. A truly breathtaking piece of music.
The percussion loop on the original version is sampled from the song Parade Strut by J.J. Johnson from the 1974 soundtrack of Willie Dynamite. The voice at the beginning of the song is a sample from John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Planetary Citizen.

The Paul Oakenfold mix:

Incidentally, the reason why the group were called 'Massive' at the time was because the name 'Massive Attack' was deemed by EMI as being insensitive seeing as the First Gulf War was going on.
And you thought political correctness was a new thing...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Winstons - Amen Brother

Never heard of this track? Oh yes you have, or at least a small part of it. The drum solo at 1:27 - 1:33 was sampled; music history made in 6 seconds and spawned several entire subcultures.
But first, let's shed a little light on The Winstons themselves.
They were a 1960s soul/funk group, based in Washington, D.C., who are most notable for recording a track called Color Him Father recorded in 1969, backed with a B-side entitled Amen, Brother, with that sample in question.
It's probably the most sampled record of all time. The drum solo (performed by G.C. Coleman) that has been sampled and used in thousands of hip-hoppopdrum and bass and jungle tracks. This beat is known as the Amen break, after the song.

Can't hear it? let's make it simpler:

The musicians must be rolling in it, yes? Er, no. Neither the Winstons, Coleman, nor the copyright owner Richard L. Spencer have ever received any royalties or clearance fees for the use of the sample, nor have they sought royalties.
If you're of a mind to, get comfy and watch this, it explains the sigificance of Six Short Seconds:

The Mohawks - The Champ (1968)

Oh man, this is a good one; funky ass organ mover if ever there was!
The Mohawks were a band formed from session musicians and fronted by the undisputed king of Library music composers, Alan Hawkshaw. The Mohawks were never actually a 'touring' band, but rather the clever idea of some guy at KPM music in the 60's who decided to release a bunch of incredibly groovy and funky library music tracks and package it under the name "The Mohawks".
The Champ is also a widely known song for having been sampled in so many other songs, notably because the actual word they're shouting in the songs opening and chorus is actually Tramp, which may or may not have anything to do with it's popularity amongst hiphop artists. One could also argue the point that the beat is so genuinely great, making it an obvious candidate for popularity.

Sample Check: too many to list (like over 100 according to my reckoning), but notable ones include Eric B Is President by Eric B & Rakim, Groove Me by Guy and Smooth Operator by Big Daddy Kane.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Incognito - I Hear Your Name (1995)

Another tune I have on regular repeat on my Zen player and one of my all time Cog vocal tracks - it's so uplifting and I used to get goosebumps when I heard it played on the radio driving to work when it first came out. I had exactly the same feeling when I heard the song played live at the last gig I saw them at in the Forum Kentish Town.
Vocalists are Joy Malcolm (who's worked with such people as Chaka Khan, George Benson, Roy Ayers, Drizabone and Jocelyn Brown, to name but a few) and Pamela Anderson (not to be confused with that Pamela Anderson), Pamela or P.Y. Anderson who's worked with D-Note. Her sisters are Jhelisa and Carleen Anderson and if you aren't aware, their Dad is Donald Byrd.

Raphael Saadiq feat. Stevie Wonder and C.J. Hilton - Never Give You Up (2008)

From his 2008 album The Way I See ItEx-Tony! Toni! Toné! frontman Raphael Saadiq's fourth solo outing was critically well-received, made several critics' 2008 best albums lists, and garnered three Grammy nominations including Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals (for this track); Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance (for Love That Girl) and Best R&B Album for The Way I See It. C.J. Hilton, the son of a gospel vocalist, is a talented writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist.
Raphael is on his usual fine form while Hilton is channeling Marvin Gaye in his vocal delivery; at some points he sounds like a dead ringer for the man. And yes, the soloist on the harmonica is by living legend Stevie Wonder, doing as only he canAnd a head nod of respect from Raphael to introduce such an icon, much like Stevie introduced Dizzy Gillespie on Do I Do.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Taste Of Honey - Sukiyaki (1980)

Ue o Muite Arukō (translation: "I shall walk looking up") is a Japanese-language song that was performed by Japanese crooner (there's an image) Kyu Sakamoto in 1961. It is best known under the alternative title Sukiyaki. As well as domestic success, the song also topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the only Japanese-language song to do so.
Amongst over versions, it was covered by A Taste of Honey (perhaps better known for the hit Boogie Oogie Oogie) in 1980 and reached number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1981, also making it to the number 1 spot on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and Soul charts. The  Taste of Honey version used English-language lyrics, written by group member Janice Marie Johnson, who was given permission by the original song's copyright holders to write the English-language lyrics on the understanding that she receive neither official credit nor remuneration. Johnson is quoted in The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits by Fred Bronson as saying that when she translated the original Japanese lyrics into English, she found out that the lyrics could be interpreted in three ways: as a man on his way to his execution, as someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials, or as the story of an ended love affair. "Me being the hopeless romantic that I am," she explained, "I decided to write about a love gone bad."
A Taste Of Honey's version of Sukiyaki first appeared on their 1980 album Twice As Sweet.

Change - Angel In My Pocket (1980)

To Change's detractors, the studio group was nothing more than a poor man's Chic. But knowledgeable disco and R&B enthusiasts knew better; Change wasn't a carbon copy of Chic any more than jazz great Chet Baker was a clone of Miles Davis. Without question, Change was heavily influenced by the Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards sound; nonetheless, Change had an energy of its own, and anyone who seriously listened to its first album, The Glow of Love, could easily tell the difference. Produced by Jacques Fred Petrus and arranged by David Romani & Paolo Gianolio, that 1980 debut album is a disco/R&B masterpiece. A Lover's Holiday and Searching are Change's best-known songs (the latter no doubt because of the vocals of a certain pre-solo career Luther Vandross), but the group is just as captivating on the passionate Angel in My Pocket. It was alas, never released as a single, a crime to my eyes as lead vocals are provided by none other than the great Jocelyn Brown.

Bernard Wright - Spinnin' (1980)

Like Tom Browne and Lenny White/Twennynine, Bernard Wright was part of Jamaica, Queens' R&B/funk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which gave us such major hits as Twennynine's Peanut Butter and Browne's Funkin' for Jamaica. Browne and White were both talented jazz musicians, but R&B/funk was their main focus at that time. Similarly, keyboardist/pianist Bernard Wright occasionally flirted with instrumental jazz on his debut album,'Nard, but pays a lot more attention to vocal-oriented soul and funk.
This is an R&B/jazz-funk album that is defined by such impressive tracks as Firebolt Hustle, Solar, Master Rocker and this track, Spinnin',
'Nard was expected to be a big hit, but surprisingly, didn't fare as well as albums by Browne and White.
And as you've no doubt deduced if you're a hip-hop head, it was sampled on Skee-Lo's 1995 track I Wish.